XML sitemaps are files that provide Google and other search engines a map to your site and its various URLs and pages.
Consider when a crawler arrives on your site. Without an XML sitemap, it has to follow links around your site to locate new content for crawling and eventually, indexing.
With an XML sitemap, the crawler is signposted to the parts of your site that you want it to crawl and index.
XML sitemaps are signposts that urge crawlers on the right path round your site.
Without a sitemap, your site will still get indexed so long as you have proper internal linking, so don’t panic if you’ve never used an XML sitemap before.
As far as SEO goes? XML sitemaps are supportive of good SEO but will only directly influence it under specific circumstances.
You’ll need to set your site up with Google Search Console and other search engine webmaster tools to point them to your sitemap.
Crawlers can also find the XML sitemap in your robots.txt file if you specify the path to the sitemap there.
Do You Need an XML Sitemap?
XML sitemaps aren’t strictly essential – your site will still get indexed without one, so long as pages are properly linked by internal and/or external URLs.
But that doesn’t provide the whole picture as XML sitemaps certainly improve the efficiency and quality of indexing and this does impact SEO.
Google themselves state that XML sitemaps are only 100% essential if your site is reasonably large (over 500 pages) or features a lot of rich media.
The problem is, by modern standards, sites with 500+ pages can still seem small, and many ‘small’ sites will exceed this if they have a store with quite a few products, a blog, etc.
Other situations when you definitely need an XML sitemap is when your site has a complex structure with a lot of disparate or isolated content that might get overlooked by crawlers if you don’t provide a sitemap.
In these situations, crawlers may never reach your newly created content if you don’t have a sitemap to direct them there. Obviously, this is a problem; they’ll arrive on your homepage, explore a little and pretty much get lost crawling the same pages until your crawl budget depletes.
This could leave parts of your website uncrawled and therefore, unindexed!
Why You Should Create an XML Sitemap
Even if Google states that you don’t need an XML sitemap, particularly if your site is small (though you might be surprised as to how large your site really is), it’s definitely good practice to create one for any site.
Creating an XML sitemap is pretty easy, and once you upload your sitemap into Google Search Console, you’ll be able to check when Google visits it and crawls your URLs, which is very useful in itself.
Providing a sitemap to Google will also help get your site indexed quickly and you’ll be able to check and track the crawl status of your URLs from the Sitemaps section of Google Search Console.
For this alone, creating a sitemap is well worth it.
When You Should Create a Sitemap
It depends on how you’re constructing your website or what platform or theme you’re using.
If you go down the WordPress route, your theme will already have some sort of built-in URL structure, e.g. you might have a homepage, blog, about, shop, portfolio and other related pages.
Shopify and other platforms will auto-generate XML sitemaps, but you still might need to modify them at some point.
Generally speaking, once you build your site out with some content and get your site set up with Google Search Console, you should create and add a sitemap.
When you make small changes to your site, there’s no need to update the sitemap unless it’s very large and you’re concerned about your crawl budget.
Some sitemaps generated using plugins like Yoast SEO are known as ‘dynamic sitemaps’ and will auto-update when you add and remove content from your site.
These plugins ‘ping’ search engines to alert them of updates (which may get new content indexed quicker, but it’s hard to tell and you can’t count on it.
Where Do You Put the XML Sitemap?
The XML sitemap should be placed at your site route, so www.example.com/sitemap_index.xml.
You place your sitemap manually with the file manager of your web hosting software (such cPanel), but you can also use a plugin to do this for you (and many will also generate the sitemap also).
Once you’ve placed your sitemap file at the root, you can head into Google Search Console and head to Sitemaps > Add a New Sitemap.
For other search engines, e.g. Bing, Yandex or Baidu, you’ll have to use their equivalent webmaster tools to upload your sitemap. You can also add the sitemap to your robots.txt so they can find the sitemap automatically when they crawl your site.
- Create a sitemap using a sitemap generator tool or plugin
- Add the sitemap to your site’s root (manually or with a plugin)
- Add that sitemap to Google Search Console
- Wait for confirmation that Google can see your sitemap, your URLs should be mapped and crawled soon after
- You can also add your sitemap to any robots.txt files you create for your site
Advanced Sitemap Attributes and Controls
XML sitemaps can contain complex attributes that provide in-depth signposts for crawlers visiting your site.
XML sitemap attributes include priority, last modified and change frequency, all of which are designed to instruct crawlers on what your important URLs are and how often they change.
You can alter these if you like (using in-depth XML sitemap generators like Screaming Frog), but many search engines pay little or no attention to them.
For example, Google stated that they do not consume priority attributes in sitemaps.
XML Sitemap Tools
Screaming Frog XML Sitemap Generator
The Screaming Frog XML sitemap generator is part of their SEO Spider tool that crawls your site, locates its URLs and analyzes various on-page and technical SEO characteristics.
In the process, it will crawl your URLs for XML sitemap generation.
Screaming Frog provides a full breakdown of your site’s URL structure, allowing you to create an XML sitemap that is modifiable with attributes such as priority and change frequency.
You’ll also be able to select any URLs you don’t want to include in the sitemap (though they’ll still be crawled if there are internal or external links pointing to them).
The free version of the SEO Spider will crawl up to 500 URLs which you can use to create your XML sitemap.
- Crawls your site for URLs
- Allows you to add many types of sitemap attributes (e.g. priority, change frequency)
- Up to 500 URLs for the free version of the SEO Spider (which does a lot more than create sitemaps)
This longstanding XML sitemap generator tool has been around since 2005 and is a quick and easy way to build a standard XML sitemap for any site.
Simply insert your site into the field and the tool will crawl its various URLs to generate a downloadable XML sitemap to place in your website root and Google Search Console.
The free version of the tool will map up to 500 pages. There is a premium version of the tool that creates dynamic sitemaps for larger websites, and it will ping them to search engines so you don’t have to upload them yourself (but you should anyway).
An excellent, simple free tool for creating XML sitemaps for upload to your site’s root and Google Search Console.
- Free tool crawls up to 500 pages
- Downloadable XML sitemaps
- Premium version ideal for super-sized sites
XML Sitemap Generator
Another super-simple, free XML sitemap generator, this free tool will crawl up to 2,000 URLs, more than broadly equivalent free tools.
There are also several options for creating advanced XML sitemaps with change frequency, priority and exclusion or filtering settings. It’s only worth fiddling with these settings if you’re an advanced SEO user or want to manage a crawl budget problem.
The company also offers a WordPress XML sitemap plugin that lets you choose whether or not to add new content you create for your site.
- Generate XML sitemaps for up to 2,000 pages
- Advanced attribute settings
- WordPress plugin also available
My Sitemap Generator
This is another super-simple sitemap generator suitable for the vast majority of standard websites. Simply enter your root URL to create your sitemap.
The free tool accommodates sites with up to 500 pages. There’s plenty of advanced settings here if you’re looking to manage a crawl budget problem (unlikely for small sites).
- Free for up to 500 pages
- Set advanced sitemap instructions and attributes
- Set URL change frequency and priority
The fantastic and widely known Yoast SEO plugin includes an XML sitemap feature that is free to use.
The plugin will automatically update your sitemap as you add/remove/change content on your site, which is obviously great.
The XML sitemap feature is very easy to activate, and once you’ve done it from within the plugin menu in WordPress, you’ll be able to view your sitemap and submit it to Google Search Console and other webmaster tools.
You’ll probably notice that there are no additional settings to adjust priority or change frequency, but as stated, you really don’t need to worry about these too much.
- Auto-generate dynamic XML sitemaps for any WordPress site
- Sitemaps are auto-updated
- Simply point Google Search Console to the sitemap that you can open from within the plugin
Google Sitemap Generator
Though named Google Sitemap Generator, this sitemap generator plugin is compliant with most search engines and allows you to auto-generate sitemaps for WordPress sites.
When you update your site or create new content, the plugin ‘pings’ Google and other search engines with an alert that your sitemap has been updated.
This plugin does allow you to edit priorities, change frequency and other parameters if you want to. It’s extremely well-rated, reliable and easy-to-use for anyone.
- Auto-generate dynamic XML sitemaps for any WordPress site
- Auto-update sitemap and alerts Google and other search engines to changes
- Allows for changes to advanced sitemap parameters and attributes
Rank Math is an extremely sophisticated WordPress SEO plugin that provides unparalleled control over numerous on-page and technical SEO settings ranging from schema to sitemaps.
It doesn’t just cover XML sitemaps but also news and video sitemaps that can help Google index your content and media to Google Videos and Google News.
The XML sitemap generator is exceptionally easy to use and modify, and you’ll be able to allocate URLs that you don’t want to include in the sitemap.
In general, though, Rank Math is a gem of a WordPress SEO tool that has been featured by many top SEO brands. The XML sitemap feature is available in the Standard version at $59 a year (and is also obviously available in the more advanced, expensive tiers).
- WordPress SEO plugin
- Powerful sitemap features
- Tons of other tools available in the plugin
Site Robot for Shopify
This is an XML and HTML sitemap generator plugin for Shopify.
It essentially creates an XML sitemap for any Shopify site for upload to Google Search Console.
The only real advantage it lends over auto-generated Shopify sitemaps is that you can choose URLs to exclude (and that it lets you create HTML sitemaps too, which are a different type of sitemap that pull all your site URLs onto one page of your site).
- Auto-generate XML sitemaps for Shopify
- Exclude URLs
- Also generates HTML sitemaps
Magento XML Google Sitemap Generator
For the Magento CMS, this sitemap generator is designed to quickly and efficiently create very large sitemaps for super-sized sites (typically enterprise-level or larger business sites with thousands of pages).
It’s a powerful tool that allows total control over sitemaps and it’s capable of mapping the maximum number of URLs Google permits for a sitemap (50,000 URLs or 50MB).
This is very useful for large Magento stores with potentially thousands of products and many dynamic pages. Essential for enterprise-level crawler budget management for Magento.
- Sitemap generator for Magento
- Works with XL websites
- Plenty of control over attributes
Creating and implementing XML sitemaps for Google Search Console and other webmaster tools is straightforward and whilst the jury is out on whether or not they confer direct SEO advantages, XML sitemaps definitely qualify as SEO ‘good practice’.
For some sites, there’s no doubt of the necessity of XML sitemaps and properly implementing them can get your site indexed properly, also helping you manage crawl budget problems.
It’s also very useful to be able to view and navigate your site in the Search Console under the Sitemaps tab.
This provides you with an easy way to monitor the URL structure and indexing status of your site and its pages.